On Skills Technical and Social
“What you want is a Trek Wahoo,” the store clerk said emphatically. We were standing in a west Wichita shop, small but full of bicycles hanging from the ceiling and leaning along the walls.
“I’ve already ridden a Wahoo but it didn’t suit me,” I told him. “Can I try your Felt hardtail 29er?”
“Treks are the best mountain bikes on the market,” he replied, his hands jabbing authoritatively in the space between us. It was as though I hadn’t spoken at all. “You just need a good fit, and I’m the person to do it,” he continued. “People come all the way from New York to be fit by me.” No kidding, man. Are they your relatives?
He talked and for the next 15 minutes I was forced to listen, mainly about how Treks had the best geometry due to the Gary Fisher legacy. Whenever he stopped for breaths I would ask about test riding the Felt, and eventually the lecture stopped long enough for him to bring out the bike. I rode out of the shop into a mild sunny day, relieved that I was no longer being preached at.
I didn’t buy the Felt. When we got into the car afterwards, Mr. Spoked and I dissected the clerk’s sales technique. It probably works on the 90% of customers who know little about bicycling and only want a machine for light exercise. But I had been reading forums and studying websites for over a month. I knew I wanted a hardtail 29er and needed to test ride different models to find the best one for me. I’ve been through a custom fit and understand how micro-differences in frame geometry result in macro-differences in comfort. All I want is to be taken seriously. “That guy’s problem is that he talks too much and doesn’t listen,” said Mr. Spoked. In other words, his social skills stink.
And that brings me to the technical skills part of this post. The day after Christmas I bought a Specialized Rockhopper Comp 29er, not from the Wichita shop but from Capp’s here in Topeka. Chris Armstrong sold it to me, and he’s got great social skills–the kind of salesman who listens to you and wants you to ask questions. Mountain biking is my 2012 challenge. I’ve been on three rides this week and am stunned by how much I have to learn. Technical skills, indeed. It’s going to be an interesting year.